VIDEO: The joy of the sculptor’s brother as the giant concrete float head of the Glasgow Garden Festival returns to the water
Hidden among the yachts at a Clydebank shipyard, a not-so-small piece of history is preparing to return to the water and return to the public eye.
Covered in moss and with a small crack or two around its exterior, the giant Floating Head sculpture from the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival is due to refloat on the Clyde to coincide with another big event at the same location, the COP 26 Environmental Summit.
After a crowdfunding campaign, the family of original sculptor Richard Groom, who died in 2019, partnered with the Sculpture Placement Group to organize the necessary repairs and put it back in the river safely.
Richard’s older brother Andy said: “We are absolutely delighted. The enthusiasm we have garnered from all of our supporters has been astounding, we have been blown away. We couldn’t imagine it during the first rumor at my brother’s funeral.
“To a certain extent it is a memorial to him, but also to the people of Glasgow and the Garden Festival. It will be fantastic for everyone to put it back in the water.
“Have you seen a lot of them?” It’s unique, there is only one. We would like it to be a place where people can enjoy it forever. “
Having narrowly escaped destruction, Floating Head is in very good condition.
Commissioned especially for the festival, it was one of five sculptures built for display with the help of shipbuilders from the Govan Docks. The idea was to link the industrial heritage of the city to the process of artistic creation.
More than three decades later, it has been found by Richard’s family – with a little help from Google Earth, where it can be seen in all its glory.
Groom said: “It was strange to see him again. We were delighted to have found it, and seeing it up close was quite touching.
“The survey team is out and it is not yet in impeccable health, there is a bit of repair work to be done, but it is in good condition.
“As a sculptor, Richard was very talented, as a shipbuilding engineer, maybe not so much! He won the bid to do it and came to Clydeside to have it built using the skills of the townspeople.
“He was pretty stressed out doing it and it was against the deadline. When we first threw it it wasn’t floating – sunk is the word we’re looking for – as there were four really big holes it had been propped up when it was built. But we fixed it, and it floated throughout the festival with no other issues.
“Richard would be delighted if we revived him but he would laugh too.”
A highly skilled artist, Richard Groom early in his career saw him exhibiting sculptures in a London gallery and also working as a stone sculptor for many of Scotland’s most beloved buildings.
He taught stone carving at Telford College in Edinburgh and remained a passionate champion of traditional carving skills and the preservation of the built environment until his death in 2019.
His mother Audrey will cut the ribbon when Floating Head is relaunched, with many supporters eager to see him on the water again.
Kate V Robertson of the Sculpture placement group said: “We had a feeling it might resonate with people because there is a lot of attention around the Glasgow Garden Festival. We thought we had a good answer, but it was great to meet and exceed our target.
“I think it’s really iconic and unusual. It has a symbolic association with the Garden Festival, a way of remembering the greatest impacts of this event. I think people want to see him float again as a mark of Richard’s legacy and to celebrate his life.
The plan is to float the sculpture in Govan Basin, in time for Open Doors in September and COP 26 in November.
The giant concrete floating head would become a talking point, providing both memories of the past and thoughts for the future.
“There are so many different things that you can take away when you think about it,” said Robertson. “It will float behind the Science Center for the public to think about, maybe the physics of the float.
“It was made by the artist alongside shipbuilders who had welded in the Clyde yards, which by this point had virtually ceased. There is also this story that you can tap into.
“We are interested in sculpture and how it can be used to instill pride of place or to serve communities or as a means of delivering engagement and education activities.
“The number of strands you can get around is really interesting. It is part of our heritage and it was almost lost. We believe he survived this long, so he should be reviewed.
There are parallels between COP 26 and the Garden Festival beyond the single shared venue, both aimed at envisioning a greener and brighter future.
Robertson said: “COP 26 is a great opportunity to link this legacy between the two events. The Garden Festival was all about how we envisioned a new future for the industrial site that needed a new focus. COP26 has everything to do with different ways of living for the planet.
“I think a lot of it will be quite inaccessible to people who live locally, it will be a pretty closed event. How will people really relate to it? Things like the float head having an association with COP 26 but also being visible and accessible, operating on a symbolic level, is a visible entry and marker. I think it has value in that regard.
The group has requested to be part of the COP26 program and is awaiting a response.
They have already received support from the Construction Industry Training Board, Glasgow City Heritage Trust and the National Lottery Community Fund to carry out a local community engagement project in partnership with the Glasgow Science Center.
🗿 Thank you for supporting our Floating Head Crowdfunder project, we raised over £ 7K during the campaign,…
“We’re going to float it anyway, even if it’s before the summit. The parties involved in the body of water have no problem with its entrance, ”said Robertson.
“We hope to float it in September for the open house, then it will catch COP26, then we will take it out of the water for the winter.
“We hope to find a permanent location for it, bring it back to the public, hopefully will rekindle interest and people will rally around the idea of placing it somewhere.”